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National Airspace System: Airport-Centric Development

Posted by Content Coordinator on Monday, April 8th, 2013


In an effort to increase airports’ efficiency in moving passengers and cargo while bolstering the economies of regions surrounding airports, some domestic and international airport owners and operators, government officials, and business owners are exploring opportunities to strategically develop airports and the regions around them. (For more information on such international airport activity see app. I.) These stakeholders view airports as a central piece of their development efforts, believing that businesses in close proximity to an airport can use that proximity as a marketing tool. For businesses that seek to satisfy consumer demand for timely delivery of goods and services, this close proximity can be an element of their business plans. Some efforts are also under way in the United States to promote development at airports and in the regions around them.

There have been several efforts in Congress to recognize this type of development (also sometimes referred to as an “aerotropolis”) as being eligible for federal funding. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which reauthorized several surface transportation programs, contains a provision that directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish a program to assist states in “strategically directing resources toward improving the efficiency of freight movement, on highways, intermodal connectors, and aerotropolis transportation systems.” Other bills to specifically include development at and around airports were introduced in the 112th Congress, but were not enacted.

Given the possible economic benefits of airport-centric development, you requested that we examine such development efforts. This report describes factors airport stakeholders identified as considerations for airport-centric development and some of the actions taken by airport operators, government officials, and developers to facilitate airport-centric development. For the purpose of this report, we define airport-centric development as development on the airport property to enhance the airport’s nonaeronautical revenue (see panel A of fig. 1) and development outside the airport that is intended to help the region economically by leveraging its proximity to the airport (see panel B of fig. 1).

To address our objective, we identified factors that facilitate airport-centric development from relevant literature, interviews with experts, and our observations at selected U.S. airports and regions. We reviewed academic, industry, and government reports and other documents describing the role of the nation’s air transportation system, defining airport-centric development and related concepts, and identifying the key factors relevant for reviewing and understanding the nature and scope of airport-centric developments. From this work, we developed an organizational framework consisting of five factors considered by officials from airports and jurisdictions when pursuing airport-centric development.

We selected 12 airports with scheduled-airline service for more in-depth study of airport-centric development activities and the regions in which they were located. We selected these airports because of their passenger enplanements and annual cargo-weight landed and based on media releases about regions looking to leverage their airport to promote development, and experts’ recommendations. In addition to the 12 airports with scheduled-airline service, we also studied two industrial airports that specialize in cargo and business services. We selected these two industrial airports based on their airport-centric development efforts. (See app. II for profiles of the airports in our study.)

We conducted semi-structured interviews of airport officials, officials from businesses located adjacent to or near airports, representatives of international and national real-estate development organizations, local and regional economic-development specialists, and federal, state, and local government officials. The focus of these interviews was to gather information on airport-centric development efforts from the perspective of knowledgeable stakeholders. As a result, interviews inquired into the officials’ activities and motivations and their perspectives on the regional assets they identified as part of their development efforts. In collecting this information, we did not verify the accuracy of stakeholders’ statements, but instead used their statements to understand the perspectives of those participating in airport-centric development at the sites we selected. We use the indefinite quantifier, “some” “many,” and “most” to inform the reader of the approximate quantity of stakeholder or interviewee type within the regions where we interviewed who agreed with the particular statement or idea (see app.III for an explanation of how these indefinite quantifiers are used). We also reviewed the airports’ financial data from about 1997 through 2011, master plans, and other project plans. We analyzed the information obtained from these sources to better understand the context in which the regional stakeholders and airport operators approached airport-centric development.

We conducted our work from June 2011 to March 2013, in accordance with all sections of GAO’s Quality Assurance Framework that are relevant to our objective. The framework requires that we plan and perform the engagement to obtain sufficient and appropriate evidence to meet our stated objectives and to discuss any limitations in our work. We believe that the information and data obtained, and the analysis conducted, provide a reasonable basis for any findings and conclusions in this product. See appendix III for additional information on our objective, scope and methodology.

Read full report (PDF) here: National Airspace System Airport-Centric Development

About the GAO
“The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the “congressional watchdog,” GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. The head of GAO, the Comptroller General of the United States, is appointed to a 15-year term by the President from a slate of candidates Congress proposes. Gene L. Dodaro became the eighth Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on December 22, 2010, when he was confirmed by the United States Senate. He was nominated by President Obama in September of 2010 and had been serving as Acting Comptroller General since March of 2008.”

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